Don’t you hate when a movie’s marketing tricks you?
Like when you go see a comedy and realize all the best jokes were in the preview? Or when an action thriller over-shares all the best scenes? Or when a trailer screams “comedy,” and you sit down to discover a “drama” with a few scattered comedic scenes?
My wife and I went to a matinee on her birthday recently, picking The Intern based on its funny trailer. We were surprised to find a drama on the screen, but I was even more surprised that watching this film felt like reading my own journals.
Anne Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, an entrepreneur and founder of an online fashion site, About the Fit. She is coerced by her team to take on an “older” intern, to promote a company-wide initiative. Ben Whittaker (played by Robert DeNiro) is looking for a way to fill his free time in retirement and makes a big impression in his interviews. While this is DeNiro like we’ve rarely seen him, the film is carried by the interplay between the two stars.
For a world that is struggling to navigate five generations working side-by-side in the workplace, this film is full of lessons ready to be applied. I chose five insights for Millennials and Millennials working with much older generations.
1. Our teams get better when we have multiple generations involved.
Ben noticed things no one else noticed. A stack of random junk drove Jules nuts and Ben was perceptive enough to notice this and do something about it. In a short time, Ben made himself an invaluable member of the team. When Jules became frustrated with Ben and wanted to eliminate him, her team pushed back asserting his value.
In The Intern, we learn age is not a restriction to becoming a linchpin. While leading and serving on a multi-generational team is certainly not easy, the difficulty is most certainly worth it. We’re better for it when we have a diversity of ages on our teams!
2. Mentoring goes both ways.
In one of the funny plot lines, Ben taught the younger guys about the importance of carrying a handkerchief. The younger guys instructed Ben about technology and pushed him to be courageous in pursuing an older woman who obviously admires him. In his book, Reverse Mentoring: Spiritual Awakening for Missional Leaders, Earl Crepes describes his enduring hope, where “reconciling younger leaders looking for a cause with older leaders looking for an opportunity might give God a chance to change everyone.” We often limit mentoring from age and experience to youth. However, the most powerful kind of mentoring is reciprocal.
3. Everyone wants to feel confident and secure.
Ben prepares for his first day with several alarm clocks. Jules’ assistant is overcome with insecurity and an obsessive desire to please her demanding boss. Pressured by her investors, Jules feels like she can’t continue as CEO in the future.
Each of the characters (along with each of us) battles insecurity. We want to feel confident and capable in our work. We want others to affirm our worth and value to the team. When dealing with team members, we would be helped to remember almost everyone wants to do a good job. The few who don’t are outliers and shouldn’t bias our views of everyone else.
4. Working is more fun when you do so with friends.
The workplace at Jules’ company, About the Fit, is an environment where you can celebrate, play and laugh. A bell is rung when someone does something noteworthy or outstanding. Sure, it’s a movie but wouldn’t you want to work somewhere like this?! According to Gallup co-founder Donald Clifton, “Studies show that employees with a best friend at work tend to be more focused, more passionate, and more loyal to their organizations. They get sick less often, suffer fewer accidents, and change jobs less frequently. They even have more satisfied customers.” Work is better with friends than acquaintances.
5. The way we work can hurt our life outside of work.
In the film, Jules encountered a family crisis because of how she was working.
She felt like she had to choose between having a career and having a family. I won’t spoil the ending, but the resolution certainly provokes conversation after the credits rolled. My wife and I left the theater talking about my tendency to work constantly and not turn things off. I wondered aloud if she had fears or concerns about me and my habits like Jules’ husband did about his wife.
Articles abound chronicling Millennials’ desire to have a life outside of work. Managers are discerning the way our approach to work differs from previous generations. Speaking as a millennial, we have to recognize the way we work doesn’t just affect work. While we’re okay with the lines between work and life blurring more than other generations, we often overlook the fragility of our families and friendships. These people will be there when our work is gone, or our project is over.
Ben paints a needed picture of the emptiness retirement can bring, along with the desire older leaders have to contribute to a team and a mission. Jules reminds us that being a workaholic isn’t necessarily a desirable path either — that the way we work can undo our work.
If our organizations have room for people like Ben and Jules, we will all lead and live better.